LA Weekends: Flagstaff, AZ

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As we write this, it is sunny and 77 degrees in Flagstaff. Yet as we planned our trip through the desert to a city near the Grand Canyon, we were being forewarned of low temperatures—and snow. But we threw caution to the wind and pressed on anyway. I mean, we made it to Big Bear Mountain in the middle of a snowstorm (even if they did make us put those ridiculous chains on our car.) How bad could the conditions be in Arizona?

Answer: Much worse.
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[one_fifth][three_fifth]The trip started smoothly enough. We got a jump on our weekend, anticipating the seven hour drive by leaving early on Friday and hoping to make it to Flagstaff by dinner. One of us had never been to a Sonic before, so naturally, that’s where we stopped for lunch. Even if it’s not particularly spectacular, it’s a must-visit for anyone whose been taunted for decades by the chain’s nationally broadcast ads. Though, come to find out, Rozette’s international upbringing made her impervious to the chain’s national ad campaign. Oh well. I thought it was cool. So many drink flavors!

About half an hour west of Flagstaff, it began to snow and the roads started to get icy. Suddenly traffic came to a halt. A police car sped by, suggesting there had been an accident up ahead. And so we waited. And waited. And waited. Seven—seven—hours later—after police had knocked on our windshield to make sure we were OK—we lurched close enough to an exit that we were able to find an alternate route. Ninety minutes later, we arrived at our hotel, wishing, for once, the city had mandated snow chains![/three_fifth][one_fifth_last][/one_fifth_last]
 

[one_fifth][three_fifth]We cheered up once we reached the Weatherford Hotel in downtown Flagstaff. The hotel first opened in the year 1900, when Flagstaff was just a small frontier outpost—before Arizona was even a state. It feels like little has changed in that time. The hotel’s interesting design, winding corridors, and second-floor bar all give it a Western feel, as does the old-timey décor acquired throughout its history. The rooms are fairly no nonsense, but quite comfortable. The only downside was the shower, which seemed designed for someone several feet shorter than myself. And also, the place may or not be haunted, which you can take as a plus or a minus. But all that was quickly forgotten once we sat down for breakfast in the hotel’s adjoining restaurant, Charly’s, where we had coffee and a signature Sunrise Surprise before starting our trek to the Grand Canyon.[/three_fifth][one_fifth_last][/one_fifth_last]
 

[one_fifth][three_fifth]It was still snowing as we began our suspenseful drive. The roads were slick and visibility was limited, so we crossed our fingers that we wouldn’t slide into a ditch, or worse, drive 600 miles to see a ledge and a bunch of fog. Thankfully, the Grand Canyon did not disappoint.[/three_fifth][one_fifth_last][/one_fifth_last]
 

[one_fifth][three_fifth]It’s the kind of sight that’s hard to believe, or rather, too easy to believe. We’d seen it so many times in photos and movies that it was difficult to comprehend in real life. It looks fake, like a painting. The word “awesome” would be appropriate to describe it if, like the canyon, it weren’t so overplayed as to diminish its power. We could only imagine what it must’ve been like for the first Indians and explorers to stumble upon it—to walk for miles through the desert and forest and suddenly come across something so vast and beautiful. The only way we could make it real was just to stare at it for hours.

On the south rim of the canyon there’s a shuttle bus that takes you to a small museum and a couple of other lookout points, each with a slightly different view. There is a small fence along parts of the canyon, but there are far more spots with no railing at all. There’s no experience like walking near the ledge and losing all sight of tourists and civilization… until the photographer you came with starts shouting curses at you.

Seeing the Grand Canyon with snow was a unique experience. The storm wasn’t strong enough for the snow to stick at the base, but the tops of all the canyons were capped in white, and the rolling clouds had a dramatic effect. Apparently the canyon had been completely obscured by clouds the day before, though, so have a backup day if you visit in the winter. Also: bring a heavy coat. We stayed as long as we could stand the blowing wind, then headed back to explore downtown Flagstaff.[/three_fifth][one_fifth_last][/one_fifth_last]
 

[one_fifth][three_fifth]Flagstaff is a cool and very walkable city, with record stores, book stores, coffee shops and lots of restaurants and bars. We stopped for a late lunch at Karma Sushi along Route 66, which had been voted “Best Sushi in Flagstaff.” It was lively and crowded when we arrived, with a great atmosphere, and we quickly found seating at the bar. We were not too adventurous in getting spicy tuna rolls, which were delicious and quite inexpensive.[/three_fifth][one_fifth_last][/one_fifth_last]

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[one_half][/one_half][one_half_last]We ate light so that we could spend the evening touring the “Ale Trail,” a cluster of microbreweries located in downtown Flagstaff. There were bars everywhere we went in the city. Even as we were crossing the road to get to one, a group on a barcycle—uh, a bar powered by the pedaling of the drinkers onboard—rolled by. (If you haven’t seen one, they’re as strange as they sound.) But with the quality of the beer in town, it’s easy to see why the bars are so plentiful. We started with tasters from the Mother Road Brewing Company, which serves an array of darker beers to a small cluster of tables located inside the brewery itself—not just in the same building, in the same room. Pretty cool.[/one_half_last]

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[one_fifth][three_fifth]Our next stop was the Beaver Street Brewery. We had planned to hit at least one more spot, but this is where we stayed. The brewery has a large restaurant area in addition to the bar, both of which was crowded when we got there, and we soon figured out why. Beaver Street’s Big Rapid Red was among our all-time favorite beers, and the Bramble Berry Brew, a raspberry beer, blew away our low expectations of fruit-flavored beer. And after spotting one from afar, we even caved to one of their pizzas. Beaver Street has it all nailed. We cannot recommend it highly enough.

Once we were nice and drunk, we decided to walk to a museum. Flagstaff is famous for being the home of the Lowell Observatory, one of the oldest observatories in the country, built in 1896, and the site of such discoveries as the dwarf planet Pluto. Unfortunately, the snow prevented us from looking through the famous Clark Telescope, but astronomers were on hand with a 10-inch telescope through which we could see the moons and even stripes of Jupiter, in addition to star clusters and a nebula. The town’s love of astronomy led it to achieve the admirable goal of becoming the first “International Dark-Sky City,” meaning they have taken considerable effort to minimize light pollution that makes star gazing impossible in so many cities. [/three_fifth][one_fifth_last][/one_fifth_last]

[one_fifth][three_fifth]The next morning we ventured across the street for breakfast at Mix on the Square, a hip, café-style restaurant that made an excellent omelet, served with an English muffin and homemade raspberry butter.

But we had to high-tail it out of there to make it to our next destination, the Hitchin’ Post Stables, where we experienced the rarest of activities: a horse-drawn sleigh ride. Though they usually have to employ a wheeled-wagon for the journey through the woods, the snowstorm gave us the chance to have the true sleigh-ride experience.[/three_fifth][one_fifth_last][/one_fifth_last]

[one_fifth][three_fifth]We were met immediately upon arriving by the team of horses, with whom we hung out while the two strongest were hitched to the sleigh by our cowboy hat-wearing drivers. We were then taken for a journey through the snowy woods, stopping a couple times to take in the scenery. Once we even stopped in a circle of old wagons, completely in-tact but for the canvas roofs, apparently abandoned over a century ago.[/three_fifth][one_fifth_last][/one_fifth_last]

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[one_fifth][three_fifth]Once we felt bad enough for making the horses do all the work, we decide to propel ourselves through the woods. We stopped by the Flagstaff Nordic Center, you can cross-country ski or snow-shoe through miles of the Coconino National Forest. Though neither of us is an expert at the sport, we had a very nice ski through the woods, passing a couple of the “yurts” you can apparently rent and stay in—that would definitely be an experience to try out. Next time.[/three_fifth][one_fifth_last][/one_fifth_last]

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Successfully chilled (and hungered) by our day of winter activities, we popped into the Rendezvous Cafe, a coffee shop and, in true Flagstaff fashion, bar, where we warmed up with some coffee before hitting the road. Then we were on our way, on the long and, thankfully open, road back to Los Angeles, our first interstate LA Weekend a complete success.[/one_half_last]

ESTABLISHMENTS MENTIONED AND RECOMMENDED:
[one_fourth]WEATHERFORD HOTEL
23 N Leroux St
Flagstaff, AZ 86001
(928) 779-1919[/one_fourth]
[one_fourth]KARMA SUSHI
6 E Route 66
Flagstaff, AZ 86001
(928) 774-6100[/one_fourth]
[one_fourth]MOTHER ROAD BREWING
7 Mikes Pike
Flagstaff, AZ 86001
(928) 774-9139[/one_fourth]
[one_fourth_last]BEAVER STREET BREWERY
11 Beaver St #1
Flagstaff, AZ 86001
(928) 779-0079[/one_fourth_last]

[one_fourth]LOWELL OBSERVATORY
1400 W Mars Hill Rd
Flagstaff, AZ 86001
(928) 774-3358[/one_fourth]
[one_fourth]MIX ON THE SQUARE
120 N. Leroux, In the Old Town Shops,
Flagstaff, AZ 86001
(928) 774-8200[/one_fourth]
[one_fourth]HITCHIN’ POST STABLES
4848 Lake Mary Rd
Flagstaff, AZ 86001
(928) 774-1719[/one_fourth]
[one_fourth_last]FLAGSTAFF NORDIC CENTER
Mile Marker 232
N of Flagstaff on Hwy 180
(928) 220-0550[/one_fourth_last]

[three_fourth]This trip was made possible with the assistance of the Flagstaff Convention & Visitors Bureau.[/three_fourth][one_fourth_last][/one_fourth_last]


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